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Monday, October 24, 2016

From a Japanese Hospital Ward


It's 6.30am and I was awoken 20 minutes ago from the last of the light dozes that made up my night - light dozes broken by coughing, curtains being pulled, snoring, laughing, someone's unmannermoded device that plinks and blings at intervals, the occasional rustling of plastic bags and the muted din of all-night traffic from the overhead highway nearby.

Bunch of flowers brought by friends, in hospital in Tokyo, Japan.
They were light dozes managed between turning over to relieve shoulders and hips almost numb at times from a very hard mattress and a neck stiff from strange angles forced on it by a no softer pillow. (My sleeping setup at home is straight out of the Princess and Pea.)

Corridor of a Tokyo hospital.
The last time I was in hospital I was about 7 years old. I remember having to wear a Victorian-style bonnet (but in plastic) before my tonsillectomy,  and having to lie there feeling intensely self-conscious in it while a workman worked on a window outside and winked at me. I wriggled the bonnet off and got told off by a nurse for that and for pressing the buzzer for no reason but loneliness and boredom.

This is my first night ever in a hospital in the 25 years I've been in Japan. It's the local hospital just a stone's throw across the river from where we live in eastern Tokyo. Half the facilities on the hospital compound are a hospital, the rest an old people's home.

Hospital in Japan.
Urine collection point
I can chat with my partner, have a book, and my laptop, so am not bored. And no one making me wear a silly bonnet helps.

Pink is the only real color here in the hospital, and there's only a spot of it - limited to the plastic upholstered couches in the waiting room down the corridor. Everything else is ashen. Ashen with a hint of very old lemon or pale flesh. Hospital interiors aren't supposed to be stylish, but neither are they supposed to be lobotomized of anything suggesting life, joy or vigor.

Scene from a Tokyo hospital.
A spot more color: the orange call button.
Life, joy and vigor are left to the nurses. One welcomed me with no-nonsense warmth yesterday, another took my temperature and blood pressure last night with the same good cheer, another delivered my meal to my bedside: rice, miso soup, soup with meatballs and other bits and pieces, a bowl of boiled broccoli bits and shrimp, which all tasted fine. Then the same temperature and blood-pressure nurse did the same thing this morning. They're used to having to jolly patients along, and they do it well, keeping things bullish. One of the other four or five patients in my ward (there are six curtained-off beds) noted how his numbers (weight, maybe) were 666 and she joked how about 777 would be luckier.
Food at a Tokyo hospital.
Besides the medical aspect of why I'm here, I was looking forward to three days in hospital as a chance to blob without guilt. But here I am at 8.30am after a terrible night's sleep, on a hard bed with barriers around it in an ashen blancmange room without a view. It's sunny outside, and I'm wishing I was doing what I'd normally be doing right now: cycling to work.

I haven't been allowed to drink anything since midnight. I'll be having a biopsy (something I keep mistakenly calling an autopsy) in a 2 or 3 hours from now, under a full anesthetic. I'll be in my pajamas all day like an invalid, with an ID tag on my wrist, and not allowed to go outside.

Curtained off beds in the ward of a Tokyo hospital.
Curtained-off beds
The shower is usable only between 9am and 5pm, so I just got one in. In Japan, bathing is generally an evening-only event, so there was no queue. The bathroom was spacious, clean enough, and there was even another spot of pink in the form of a sieve hanging on the wall. But the ventilation slats at the bottom of the door were black and moldy, and everything was old and looked a bit raw, as if it had been hacked and reworked several times.

Bathroom at a hospital in Tokyo.
Finally, a nurse came in to change me into a gown - with some color: teal! - and put me on a drip. She scanned my wristtag - a sole flash of sunrise-red ker-ching laser in an environment that feels pageworn and opaquely analog. My biopsy should be just before midday, she says, as there are five to go before mine. The front seat on the roller coaster might always be more fun, but when it comes to getting bits taken out of you, sixth in line sounds fine.

Hospital bed, Tokyo, Japan.
The drip may just be water, but re-hydration has a calming, even slightly opiate, effect. 10am, less that two hours to go. The traffic starts to sound soothing now. Someone's being called up. There are creaks, clicks and rustles from behind other curtains. More talking from the corridor. Today's voiceless star, my prostate, sits somewhere down there waiting its dumb turn.

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  1. Hope you're going to be okay. こううんいのります!

    1. Thank you : ) Results due next week.


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